EDMONTON, Alta. – A recent report in the Globe and Mail indicated that Alberta has eased its testing standards when it comes to mandatory entry level training (MELT) for some farming and bus driving professions.
But as Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) president Chris Nash explained to Truck News-West, no driver has been told they are exempt from having to complete re-testing under MELT.
“(The government) has not said to any driver they do not have to do the test,” said Nash. “There are no exemptions, not right now.”
The issue revolves around a possible exemption for all drivers being deemed “transition drivers,” as well as farm and bus drivers called “extension drivers” from having to retake the MELT knowledge and road tests. Transition drivers are any Class 1 or 2 driver who acquired their license between Oct. 11, 2018 and Feb. 28, 2019, while extension drivers are farm and bus drivers who earned their license March 1 and beyond.
The Alberta government has said all of these drivers will receive a letter in the mail from Driver Programs and Licensing Standards with details about their driving record and whether they will be required to retake MELT-enhanced knowledge and road tests to retain their commercial license.
Therefore, some of these drivers, pending their driving record review, will be exempt from retaking the MELT knowledge and road test.
Anyone with no experience or exemptions looking to get their Class 1 or 2 license today is required to complete the MELT program to acquire their license. Farmers and school bus drivers can apply to prove they fall into their respective categories to write the pre-MELT examination and road test. If approved, bus drivers will then have until July 31, 2020, and farm workers until March 31, 2021 to comply with MELT training standards.
Nash said the AMTA supports the government’s efforts to review driver records to determine retesting requirements of transition and extension drivers, and that the focus should be on pre-licensing (those looking to acquire their Class 1 or 2 license moving forward) as opposed to post-licensing (those who already have it).
What the AMTA does not support is an effort from the farming community to have this exemption made permanent for all farm workers.
“We do not support a permanent exemption for this,” Nash said, adding they are aware of the extension for farm workers, but do not want the exemption to be made permanent. “We do support what the government is doing with the re-testing to get the backlog out, considering everyone from Oct. 11 and 30-40 years behind all took the same test and they are on the road today.”
Following backlash from the families impacted by the Humboldt Broncos bus collision, Alberta Transport Minister Ric McIver took to Facebook to clarify the government’s position on driver training standards.
Humboldt families voiced their displeasure on social media, criticizing the provincial government’s review of driver training requirements.
McIver posted Oct. 1 that “no decisions have been made or will be made until we hear from all interested parties about the best way to proceed.”
He added, “Let me assure you that we will not make any changes that compromise safety on our roads.”
In February, the previous Alberta government extended the deadline for farm workers to comply with the MELT program. After consultation with the agriculture industry, the government said it granted the exemption to those in the sector “to avoid undue pressure on seeding and harvesting operations this year.”
The Alberta government still encouraged farmers and farm workers to complete the MELT program before acquiring their Class 1 or 2 driver’s license, but it will not be mandatory during the 2019 farming season.
In a response to the argument that farm truck drivers only move their product short distances, Toby Boulet, who lost his son Logan in the Humboldt tragedy, said on Twitter, “Just driving a short distance from your home or farm! This is a ridiculous argument. Watch the reports and decide for yourself. Everyone is on the same road. It is becoming an argument about economics. The value of a load of grain and a life. I know where I stand.”
McIver said on Facebook that the farming and school bus driving professions are highly flexible and seasonal industries.
“The large time commitment, cost, and rigor of a curriculum designed for full-time truck and bus drivers created a burden on two industries made up of part-time, retired, or otherwise cash-strapped drivers,” wrote McIver. “Our government plans to use the time this second extension provides to work with farmers and school bus drivers to build a strong driver training system that works for our key industries while ensuring public safety.”